Reflections From ROMANS 4:9-25“ABRAHAM CREDITED AS RIGHTEOUS APART FROM CIRCUMCISION”

ROMANS

            The word credit/credited in this chapter is used eleven times (if my count is correct) and along with righteousness seems to be the focal point.  Now how often is righteousness used, what is this quality, and how is this righteousness reached?  The term righteousness is used eight times and it is the quality of the kingdom where one is in right standing before the judge of heaven that is credited to Abraham because he believes.

Paul now asks about the time in which this righteousness was credited to Abraham: before or after circumcision?   Moreover, he asks if this blessing of righteousness is exclusively for circumcised Jews or can uncircumcised Gentiles also partake?  Righteousness is for both Jew and Gentile alike.  And since Abraham was credited this righteousness before his circumcision (not after) Paul then concludes that righteousness comes from works of faith, rather than works of law:

Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised;”    

Then of what significance is circumcision?  It’s a sign, a seal of the righteousness of faith, not faith itself:

11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.”   

Circumcision given after Abraham’s faith was seen as a seal pointing to that faith and also pointing to God’s promise that Abraham would be the father of many nations (made of Jew and Gentile) who would birth the faith of father Abraham.  This promise came before the Law not after it; it came through the “righteousness of faith”.  Paul continues:

13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified;

The apostle presents an “if…(elliptical) then” clause which accentuates that either righteousness comes through faith or by Law, not both.  If, as many Jews argued, law keeping made one righteous, then Abraham could not be their father because this ex-pagan’s faith was credited to him as righteousness before any law was given from Sinai.  This is a “titanic” declaration that goes contra Jewish understanding of the purpose of the Law.  This next verse is puzzling to me:

15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.

Is Paul saying that Law produces in us sin and thus results in the meting out of wrath, but when there’s no law there’s no rule to break?  Or is Paul saying that the Law never was designed as a means to achieving righteousness, but to show just how deep the pit of sin in us really goes, and when it comes to being credited as righteous through faith, Law is totally out of the equation?  Maybe both, but Paul explicates this:

16 For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,”    

Righteousness through faith is what was promised, not through Law, so that Abraham who trusted God’s word of making him a father of many nations is the example to both Jew and Gentile alike.  The text says that Abraham’s attitude was a God-centered reality where he knew God had the ability to fulfill what He said, even if with man it was impossible:

17 (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. 18 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19 Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; 20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.” 

 Abraham was an absolute realist.  He knew his body and Sarah’s could not produce a child because of their age and body, but he also trusted that God, the Creator, could do what He promised, because He is God!

Abraham’s faith was consistent with his worldview—if God could create heaven and earth and all it contains, then it’s no big deal for Him to give a barren woman and seedless man a child.  That’s the nature of saving faith!  It trusts the word of the Creator, not blindly, but logically.  Yes, logically!  Paul ensues:

22 Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. 23 Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

Abraham’s actions revealed the genuineness of his faith.  Note that this account occurred before Sinai and was written down for our sakes.  It’s as if attention is being brought to the Bible above any other books which contradict it.  We have no excuse of being ignorant because it’s written.

This promise (of the Abrahamic faith credited as righteousness) was fulfilled in Christ when he was delivered over by the Father to execution because of our transgressions and He raised Jesus from the grave for our justification (V.25).  Thus, the righteousness which comes through faith is that which justifies Jew and Gentile alike.  It neither comes through the Law nor circumcision because that was not their purpose.  Instead, the righteousness which comes through faith alone is based on God’s grace alone evidenced in the fulfilled promise of Christ Jesus the Lord.

Reflections From ROMANS 3:1-20: “IS THE ADVANTAGE OF THE JEW NULLIFIED BY UNBELIEF?”

book-of-romans

            The previous section of Romans clearly declares that all mankind is under God’s just wrath, for the light God provided through nature and scripture was obscured by lies, the pinnacle of which is the great exchange of the Creators glory for the creatures.  So Paul begins this section of text with a question:

“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.

These verses follow Paul’s explanation of what true circumcision is—that which the Spirit produces, which the Law of Moses was never intended to do, namely, give the believer a heart of flesh where obeying God is a delight rather than a list of to do’s (2:28-29).

The benefit of the Jew unlike the Gentile is that they have been given the “oracles of God”.  This refers to both spoken and written Scripture for the community of followers.  Unlike general revelation (i.e., God’s revelation of Himself through nature/creation), particular revelation (i.e., God’s revelation of His will through the Bible) explains to us how to have a redemptive relationship with God (i.e., where He’s our friend, not our foe).  That is, the Bible reveals to us our origins, our sin problem, and God’s remedy for it.  That’s a supreme advantage.  But both Jew and Gentile are under God’s wrath because they suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness.

When the knowledge of God is suppressed (e.g., through a Darwinian paradigm), for the Jew it’s a “double-whammy” because they have “Both Books” if you will and are absolutely without excuse.  Paul now asks a question that seems to set-up the remainder of his point: mainly that God is true and every man is a liar:

What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, “That You may be justified in Your words, And prevail when You are judged.”

Unbelief can’t nullify, or do away with God’s faithfulness which here I take to mean His revelation in creation and scripture.  That is, Jewish advantage is removed when instead of placing their trust in the Creators’ word; it’s placed in the creatures’ word.  When this occurs God is shown to be true and man a liar.  Only one word can always be trusted and that’s God’s word, not mans’.  The reason is because this word flows from His holy character which is incapable of lies, thus, when God judges, its spot on, never tainted, it’s always in accord with His truth and will.

Thus far, the Jewish advantage of possessing the word is nullified when it’s discarded and disobeyed (I.e., not trusted).  This however does not change God’s truthfulness when liars deny His truth.  So Paul asks:

But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?” 

 How does my unrighteousness show God’s righteousness?  I think we compare them (i.e., my ways vs. God’s ways).  God reveals the truth of who He is and what He has created; I suppress that truth and replace it with my lie.  By doing this, I deny God’s design for all of life and make up my own.  We live in a culture that’s rife with this decease where the creature is the measure of all things and thus “creates” their own reality.

Again, there’s the comparison of my unrighteousness with Gods’ righteousness, or my wickedness compared to His holiness.  He is seen to be true, and I am exposed as a liar.  Why then would someone think God to be unjust by pouring out wrath since He “needs” our sins to show how glorious He is?  This seems to be what Paul is arguing.  In other words, the creature is God’s dual opposite (e.g., evil vs. good).  But that doesn’t work because He’s the self-existent Creator and we are contingent, needy creatures.  God doesn’t need us for any “benefits” but we need Him for every grace.  Paul is stating that the grounds on which God can and does judge is his righteousness.            

Thus we are rightly judged as sinners and condemned by God while simultaneously our lie abounded to God’s glory (v.7) as has already been declared (Vv.8-18).  Paul hates it when the truth of God is twisted and anticipates such acts when he states, “Let us do evil that good may come?”  Their condemnation is just” (V.8).  Does God need our sin to show forth His holiness, or our lie to demonstrate His truth, or our unrighteousness to reveal his righteousness?  The answer is no because first, God is ontologically holy, true and righteous.  As the self-existent One, He already possesses the properties or attributes mentioned.   Secondly, within the Trinitarian Godhead, these attributes are shared and demonstrated between the Father, Son and Spirit.  Thus the creature is not needed for these qualities to be expressed by the divine being.

After describing the just wrath of God upon rebellious mankind, Paul declares:  “There is none righteous, not even one.” (Vv.10-11); “All have turned aside, together they have become useless” (vv.12-17); “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (V.18).  This is a weighty indictment that before the holy, true, righteous God, we are all guilty.  Paul is still dealing with the benefit of the Jew which is nullified through the disobedience of the law and continues:

19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

The Jew is under the law which is the yardstick God uses to justly keep them accountable.  The purpose of the law is to shut men’s mouths to answer for their misdeeds.  And all have sinned, thus all are in trouble.  The reason for this is because law keeping can’t justify anyone before God.  That was never its purpose.  Instead, the purpose of the law was and is to give us the knowledge of sin.  How?  It puts forth Gods’ holy requirements for living that we can’t accomplish on our own power.

That’s a bleak reality.  Jew and Gentile are rightly condemned.  Both are found to be liars, useless and with no fear of God.  And what seems to benefit the Jew is nullified by their lack of trust in the word of truth.  Everyone then is guilty before the Holy Creator.  (SDG)